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Thursday, May 21, 2009, 03:20 pm PT (06:20 pm ET)

Workers push Apple to end iPhone supplier's labor abuse

Seizing a chance to grab the spotlight, workers at one of the key suppliers for iPhone touchscreens have taken their cause directly to Apple itself in hopes of halting what they see as abusive and illegal working conditions.

Taiwan's National Federation of Independent Trade Unions (NFITU) and other area labor groups protested in front of Apple's Taipei offices on Thursday to have the American company change Wintek's mind on alleged but potentially controversial labor practices.

According to the Global Post, workers at the demonstration held MacBook Pros showing the word "responsibility" and detailed a litany of claimed abuses by Wintek. The company reportedly fired 600 workers in December without giving advance notice while simultaneously cutting the pay of remaining workers and forcing them to work unpaid overtime to fulfill "rush" orders — though whether any of these were for Apple isn't stated.

Moreover, the company's operations in mainland China are characterized as more neglectful still. In Dongguan, Wintek is accused both of impromptu pay cuts like those at its Taiwanese headquarters as well as of of maintaining poor working conditions and retaliating against those who complain. It illegally dismissed 19 employees after they protested circumstances just a month ago, the unions claim. Many at the Taipei protest wore masks to prevent being identified and fired as punishment.

NFITU and the supporting groups said they took to protesting in front of Apple's offices after months of failed attempts to earn concessions from Wintek directly.

Defending itself, Wintek tried to put the burden on Apple by insisting that it has not only obeyed regional labor laws but that it has been following the code of conduct given to it as a supplier. On a practical level, spokeswoman Susie Lee said the firm had no choice but to cut pay and lay off workers in the midst of a worldwide economic slump. Workers who were let go were allegedly given compensation packages, and those complaining are only trying to "harm Wintek's reputation," Lee said. They may also be threatened with legal action.



Former workers, some of whom were at the protest, have already turned this argument on its head and have argued that Wintek ought to rehire now that the economy, and the company, have started recovering from the financial crash.

The complaint about Wintek isn't the first Apple has faced in China, where companies are regularly accused of overworking their staff or otherwise treating most factory employees poorly. One of Apple's other key suppliers, Foxconn, was criticized for sub-par worker dormitories, requiring excessive overtime and subjecting employees to a confusing pay structure as well as harsh discipline. Under pressure from the media, Apple eventually audited Foxconn and mandated improved standards, some of which were supposedly underway before the audits began.

Apple appears to be reacting in similar fashion to the newest charges. Although the iPhone maker said it doesn't comment on its internal supplier relationships, spokeswoman Jill Tan made clear that Apple regularly audits all of its suppliers and that it would force any contractor to take "corrective actions" if they were found breaching Apple's code of conduct.